At this point, Netflix has more than proven themselves in the original content game. But their latest series, Master of None, feels particularly special and different, even though it might be about one of the most overdone – albeit fundamental – concepts out there, dating and relationships. Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang’s new sitcom brings a lot to the table with a surprisingly honest perspective, but the show’s carefully assembled cast is another reason to get excited over the new series. Eric Wareheim (who also acts as a director for the show) plays Arnold, the main foil for Aziz Ansari’s Dev, and a fascinating dynamic is explored between the two of them. I had the pleasure of talking to Eric about constructing the DNA of this series, what this show is trying to do differently, and what about modern dating frightens him the most.
How did you originally become involved with Master of None? Did you have a pre-existing relationship with Aziz or Alan?
Yeah! I was friends with both of them, and we had this good friend – another comedy person – who we had a food club that we did together…
Oh, Jason Woliner?
Of course. He’s incredible.
Yeah! They actually made a pilot for it that’s on YouTube right now. It’s this ridiculous thing on a boat. So we started being buddies around that, and I’m very close to Aziz, and I feel like a lot of my character is really me. We have a lot of talks about life, and women, and food. I think that’s kind of where I fit into the show.
I was going to say, your character’s lines feel so in tuned to you that it almost feels like you’re going off book entirely. Is that the case? Are you guys doing a lot of adlibbing, or is the script just so in touch with your personality?
Well, yeah. I kind of told Aziz and Alan that the only way I could really give a natural performance is if I kind of go off book. I’m better that way. I’m not exactly trained as an “act-or.” So it might feel kind of natural, but it’s really just us riffing. That’s how I direct, too. You kind of just get the main idea where you want to make things really real, and then we’ll get one – we’ll get a take as written in the script, and then the guys will decide on what the best one is.
You mentioned directing. Your performance here as Arnold is great, but I’ve always been very interested in your directing career. You’ve done some amazing music video work, “Polite Dance Song”, “Ham”, and “Wishes” are videos that I’m regularly watching because their composition is so gorgeous. Was it gratifying to be one of the few directors involved with this project, especially since it has such a filmic look to it?
Yes. It was a huge honor. I’ve been working really on my own up here – Tim Heidecker of course, but – this is my first big project with a large cast and a great location to make it really cool. It was really like a fun challenge to be living in New York, and they took a great leap of faith of me. I think I delivered.
I think I hit the right essence and all of that stuff.
Being so integrated into the process, too, must have you feeling like your voice is being heard and that you have a say in how this show is being assembled and the look to it, too.
Yeah, absolutely. It was great to be able to direct myself in some of these episodes, and collaborate with how these characters interact. And really, I think they wanted me around – originally I was set up to do two episodes and then they gave me two more – and I think it’s because we all just like hanging out. We all like to decide on what lunch we’re getting. Eating and friendship are just so important to us. It’s all that we focus on during the day, and it’s like the show is kind of secondary.
I was excited when I saw your name pop up in the credits, but then you end up directing more episodes than anyone else all season!
Yeah, I was really honored to be asked to do that.
One of my favorite moments from the series is the extended conversation that Arnold and Dev have over Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.” The series is full of theses sorts of moments that are evocative of ‘70s cinema, Woody Allen, Richard Linklater. Are those big inspirations for you too? Do you like indulging in those sensibilities so deeply?
Yes. Yeah, I love Woody Allen. I love all of those directors and movies. I like that scene a lot, too. We did a lot of scenes that were extended versions of what made it into the cut.
We touched on New York briefly, but obviously it’s such a huge presence in the show. Do you have as much of a history and passion for the place as Aziz does?
Yeah. I grew up in Philadelphia and I would come to New York every weekend to shoot in Brooklyn. And I would also go to see concerts all the time. I used to play over there, too. I did feel like it was a second home to me; so living there made me truly, truly fall in love with the city. I’m pretty obsessed with it now. I’m going back tomorrow for the premiere, and I’m just excited to be back in the city. And I think I hit that in the show.
You can see it in the way the show’s shot, too. I feel that sort of relationship with the city is almost needed in order to pull that off authentically.
I took special care to photograph it really beautifully and give it this true honor. We let you know it’s not just a background but really part of what the show’s about.
What are your thoughts on Netflix’s production model? You’ve not only been apart of this, but also produced W/ Bob and David through Abso Lutely. Would you be interested in creating a series for them at some point? You’ve had tremendous freedom with Adult Swim but is that new model still attractive to you?
Yeah, I’ve hung out with and had a lot of meetings with the Netflix people. I love their model. They gave us so much creative freedom on this show. It’s totally inspirational. Tim and I were even just talking today about pitching them on a couple of ideas because the W/ Bob and David stuff went so smoothly. It’s a new world. I’m excited about that.
Are you a big binger? Or do you prefer to spread something out and make it last?
I’m a combination. I’m a combination because there are certain shows I will binge, but I only have about a three-hour binge limit until I feel like I’m losing my mind. Right now I’m in this crazy world of too many shows that are DVR’d. I think it’s an insane time.
No, it’s absolutely become a problem.
There’s The Affair, Homeland…I’m doing Mr. Robot.
Ugh, still haven’t made the jump yet.
There are so many! It’s insane. TV is almost giving me anxiety right now from all the shows I have to catch up on.
Yes! I feel like I’m just behind in everything – I haven’t seen this week’s Fargo or The Knick yet – and I get stressed out. I get dread over like, “Okay, I need to catch up on that.” It can avalanche on you.
Yeah, I feel like we’re entering the next level when it comes to this kind of comedy, which I’m really proud of being apart of.
I think Master Of None also does an excellent job in terms of effectively representing diversity and minorities, not just in the show but on the production side of things as well. There are some very poignant, fresh conversations being had here. How does it feel to be apart of all of that?
It’s amazing. Directing the episodes “Indians on TV” was eye opening. A lot of these concepts I didn’t really think about until Aziz talked to me about what it’s like to be an Indian in Hollywood. He just went for it, and I think it’s going to be very eye opening. It’s also just smart. When I look at these press pictures of the gang, I’m the only white guy.
I was going to say, you’re the token minority on this show!
And that is so refreshing and I think it’s very smart of Aziz and Alan to make it that way. It’s really about their experiences. Two minorities going through the Hollywood works.
What’s your take on Arnold at the end of the day? We never dig too deep into him during the first season. Would you group him amongst the rest of the weirdos that you’ve played, or is he different?
I like him. He’s a little special because he is absurd at times and silly, but he still loves Dev a lot.
And he still functions as the straight man to him a lot of the time, too.
Yeah, and it was nice to play this character that’s just a little bit skewed from our real relationship. Like there are some lines where they’re hard for me to say. The scene where we’re deciding on what tacos to get, I was very dismissive like, “Whatever!” But I would never be that way though. I would have ten ideas down about taco orders, so it was really fun to get to play this kind of guy.
In a show that’s so consumed with dating in the modern times, what’s the current trend or hang-up that drives you the most insane right now?
Well… That’s a good question… I’m recently single and I’m having fun dating. I haven’t done any of the Internet dates yet. I probably won’t do Tinder but there are a few other ones out there that look interesting. So yeah, I don’t know. I’ve decided not to play games, like waiting days to contact someone – I mean, I’m a thirty-nine year-old man. You know, you date a younger girl and I guess on that end there are things like emojis and I’ve just chosen to not engage in all of that stuff, haha.
The show often reflects the scariest aspects of relationships and romance without being afraid to be honest or cut deep. You also have a Bedtime Stories Special – a series that is arguably predicated on fear – that is also premiering on the 6th. What scares you the most in life, the more muted, real-to-life stuff, or the more surreal, overtly frightening moments?
I would say the more real stuff. For example we had an episode last season called “Hole” where my whole family turned on me. My wife, my kids, they buried me alive. That’s a real nightmare I’ve had before. I don’t think there’s feeling any worse than that. It’s kind of a real thing when people turn on you. Anyone can turn on you at some point. I just think it’s really frightening.
Aziz ended up casting his own parents in this to play his mother and father with the experiment bringing a lot of things to the table. Would you ever be interested in casting your family to play themselves for some means of authenticity, or do you prefer to keep those worlds apart?
Yeah, I would love to give them a shot. In other shows I’ve done I’ve cast other people who have played my parents and I think they were kind of horrified by it. I mean, Aziz’s parents are just so adorable that it kind of works.
Do you think that Dev might ultimately be able to find happiness and be more secure with himself if he fully embraced the principles of Zone Theory into his life?
[Laughs] Yeah! I’ve been pushing that on him – onto Aziz and Dev – but I think Dev really does need to dive into all of that and begin only eating white foods. He needs to just divorce his friends and family and get Zone-approved people in his life, and he would be much happier.
I think so, too. Finally: Bounce house for the weekend, or trip to Nashville for the weekend?
Bounce house. Always.
All ten episodes of Master of None’s first season are available for streaming on Netflix as of November 6th.